Artist: Dark Sarah
Label: Napalm Records
For fans of Gothic metal and strong sopranos, Dark Sarah may not be a new name. Having already released three concept albums following the story of the titular character, as well as with their signing to Napalm Records, the band is starting on a new path with a new story following new characters: Grim, which is set for release on July 17th, 2020.
The album opens with “My Name is Luna,” with electronic notes that quickly morph into soft sounds of the night like loons calling and dogs barking in the distance, as eerie, creeping, soft keys come in, setting a very vivid and storied scene for the listener. Building up with some symphonics, it acts almost as a first track and an intro in one, as it does include a vocal introduction to the titular character but feels more like an intro than a full song.
“The Chosen One” then takes a surprisingly electronic turn before the heavy guitars punch in. The song introduces “Gaia’s chosen one” and that Gaia looks after her own through Heidi Parviainen‘s soft soprano. The final line is in Latin and relates to hailing the night, the moon, and something to do with the dead. The solo is simple but explosively backed up by the orchestrations, making a fairly level sound. The song does suffer a bit from basic drumming but one might argue that the song is already so busy that it doesn’t need it.
“Illuminate” is a bit more stripped-down, sounding more like a 90s rock track at the beginning, with some electronic twiddling nearly ever-present in the backing music. This is a pretty radio-friendly hit, just easy enough to be catchy but with a little something extra to save it from sounding too mainstream. “Melancholia” is a longer, more epic track with a powerful fade-out, but ends a bit abruptly (rather than fading out) so it feels a bit cut off.
Soft vocals and gentle piano open “Iceheart,” though at this point it became obvious that the lyrics lack a bit of depth. They’re pretty, they suit the music, but a lot of the time (like, a good half of the album) is just words rhymed with “night” and the rest of it is repeating lines twice but slightly changed. If I’m looking for simplicity, this is it, but if I’m listening to a big, bombastic Gothic-symphonic, I want the lyrical quality to match that of the music. Songs like “La Folie Verte” have some of the most epic, incredible, memorable backing music – the beginning of the song almost reminded me of immersive old fantasy-like video games (like Banjo-Kazooie but less kid-like or game-ish) – but the lyrics amount to, “This is something true and new! / This is something new! / Sedating, green and oh so bright! / I just need to try this, right? / Feel the magic! / How does it feel? / This is how you’ll find / This is how you will find / HOW / the sun always shines! / This is how you ́ll find / This is how you ́ll find / LOVE!” Even trying to follow the story, it’s a bit too vague. The lyrics really aren’t living up to the music, but if you’re not as obsessed with lyrical quality as I am, this likely won’t be an issue.
“The Wolf and the Maiden” brings back recurring guest vocalist JP Leppaluoto as the voice of the Wolf, though when contrasted with songs like “Dance with the Dragon” from The Puzzle (2016) or his other features within Dark Sarah, while the vocal harmonies are beautiful, they’re not nearly as striking as in past songs. “The Hex” has a speedy intro that goes into very sweet-sounding vocals but I found myself again distracted by the repetitive lyrics. The song’s got more of a metal feel, with the orchestrations again more stripped down and some decent speedy, slightly-chugging guitars on top of rather simple drums.
“All Ears!” is a deeply creepy carnival, but you may know this already from the video, which was released at the end of May. Easily one of my favorites, the dark tones and slight insanity to the sound is sublime and there are some welcome growls/screams as it nears the end.
“Mörk” features Jasse Jatala on vocals alongside Parviainen and has a strange but delightful jazzy piano breakdown a bit after the midway part and again towards the end. It gets surprisingly heavy with some blasts even appearing in the drums and while the song didn’t catch my attention in the beginning, it reached out and snatched me by the neck in the second half. Jatala‘s contribution, however, was rather basic – Mörk could have been played by anyone to achieve the same effect.
The album concludes with “The Dark Throne,” led by some surprisingly fitting electronic synths and a slow disco beat. I’m honestly not sure if I like this song or not because it’s quite simple beat-wise, but it actually seems fitting in this instance. That said, the album might have wanted something with a bit more of a kick in the pants to close on.
Grim has the makings of a really great album, but the issue I have with it is that it feels more like a vocalist with a backing track than a band. The lyrics are weak, the guitars are good without being great, the bass is hardly heard, and the drums are mostly just there to keep a beat, with a little flare added here and there in a handful of songs. The electronic harpsichord and other slight electronica influences are not at all unwelcome and have been used tastefully, but all of the band’s strength comes from Parviainen‘s singing and the backing orchestration. And don’t get me wrong – they’re utterly fantastic. But if you compare to other bands in this genre, Dark Sarah are only checking a few of the boxes in their potential. If they really pushed the band compositions (and got some help with the lyrics) these guys would really be a force to be reckoned with. They’ve already nailed it with the vocals and orchestrations, the latter arguably being the hardest part. Now bring everything else up to that level!
Rating: 7/10, 3.5 stars
1. My Name is Luna
2. The Chosen One
6. La Folie Verte
7. The Wolf and the Maiden (ft. JP Leppaluoto)
8. The Hex
9. All Ears!
10. The Devil’s Peak
11. Mörk (ft. Jasse Jatala)
12. The Dark Throne